You probably didn't wake up this morning biting your fingernails over the Supreme Court's looming decision on the Affordable Care Act.
I wasn't thinking about Antonin Scalia or President Obama, though. I couldn't get out of mind all the women SELF has talked to over the years about their struggles to navigate the country's health care system.
I thought about Chaille White, who I met less than a year after her family lost its home in Hurricane Katrina. Then 26, Chaille had lost her house, her job and her insurance -- and because she had lupus, she couldn't find another plan to cover her. A Houston hospital turned her away the day she was scheduled to have chemotherapy treatment that would save her from kidney failure because she couldn't pay for the treatment up front.
I also thought about Jacqueline Ruess, whose coverage for surgery to detect ovarian cancer was cancelled because she hadn't disclosed a "preexisting condition" -- irregular periods. She had dutifully paid all her premiums, but in her mid-30s ended up on the hook for $15,000 in doctor and hospital bills. And Juliann Delozier, a 32-year-old, nonsmoker in Texas who was in perfect health but denied insurance because she had once taken infertility drugs to help her get pregnant. And Kyla Herbert, who couldn't get coverage for a daughter born with severe developmental delays and disabilities. I thought about 27-year-old lymphoma patient Joanne Jordan, who had done the right thing and scrounged to pay for insurance on a tiny nanny's salary, but still ended up so in debt that the hospital (the hospital!) later put a lien on her house and threatened to foreclose.
SELF interviewed Samareh Eskandaripour, 37, at a free health clinic in Marin County, Calif., one of the nation's richest area codes. She held down two teaching jobs neither of which offered insurance; her husband's job didn't offer insurance, either. She was at the clinic in hopes of getting medication for severe depression. "There's a misperception that people in the clinics are uneducated, that they don't have a say," she said. "It's like we're a lower caste or something. It takes away your humanity."
Maybe freshest in my mind was a woman whose story I heard earlier this month in Washington, D.C. at the White House Town Hall on Women's Health.
Abby Schanfield is a 20-year-old student at the University of Minnesota. She was born with congenital toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease passed down unknowingly by her mother, and will need treatment throughout her life. She would likely never find health insurance she could afford on the open market.
"Since I was very little, I have understood that I am limited in what I can do, where I can travel and the possibilities available to me," she said. "That is why the Affordable Care Act is so much more than a law. It is a safeguard against the unknown as well as a protection from insurance companies using the term 'preexisting condition' or 'lifetime limit' to dictate the type of job I can get, where I live, whether I can access the proper antibiotics to protect me should I choose to have children. And most importantly, it protects me from insurance companies and businessmen putting a price tag on my life... Without the ACA I could still be told that my life is not of value, that it is worth only a finite amount of money, that I am too much of burden on society to have access to a full and healthy life."
These are the real people that the Affordable Care Act was designed to help, and who are better off today because the law was upheld. Thanks to the law, already kids born with disabilities and illnesses can't be denied health coverage. As of 2014, women won't be denied insurance or charged more because of pre-existing conditions. They won't be charged more simply because they are women -- the most common preexisting condition of all. And they won't be kicked off of insurance for the slightest pretense simply because they were unlucky enough to get sick. We'll have more freedom to move from jobs and relationships that aren't good for us, to be entrepreneurs and create jobs for ourselves and others. And, heck yeah, our birth control will be covered by insurance.
The health care law is far from perfect, but I'll wake up happier tomorrow because the court upheld it. And we'll keep talking to women about how the law is working (or not) constantly thinking about laws and policies that will make essential health care easier to get, cheaper to pay for, and more effective at keeping us as healthy as we want -- and deserve -- to be.